Independent curator, editor of Nottingham’s leading visual arts journal Nottingham Visual Arts, and Director of the city’s newest commercial art space, SYSON, Jennie Syson has a lot of strings to her bow. In this interview she tells Jenny Gleadell about her new role as prize sponsor for Nottingham Castle Open 2013, why SYSON is looking forward to finding a winner and what excites her about this particular open exhibition. Jennie Syson, Gallery Director, beside artworks by Alexander Stevenson. Image courtesy of David Perry Imaging
[JG] Hi Jennie, can you start by telling us a little about your role within the Nottingham Castle Open?
[JS] Over the last couple of years working as an independent curator in particular supporting Nottingham based artists, and through my work as Editor of Nottingham Visual Arts journal, I have become more and more involved with the Castle. Last winter I was invited to host an auction and small survey exhibition entitled 'Nottingham Painting Now', which accompanied the Painting themed issue of NVA. The issue featured previous winners of the Nottingham Castle Open prize, such as Geoff Diego Litherland (Grand Prize Winner, 2008) and Thomas M Wright (Grand Prize Winner, 2010) - both of whom I have subsequently gone on to work with. This collaboration allowed me to get my toes wet again in the contemporary commercial art world, and was a great precursor the opening of my gallery in Beck Street the following year. As a new prize sponsor, I really want to establish a prize within the Open that champions cutting edge and challenging work.
[JG] So what attracted you to becoming a sponsor this year?
[JS] As an observer to the Open in recent years, I have become increasingly impressed with the calibre of work which has been presented. I think it just gets better and better. There have been some great winners since about 2009. For me, they have represented a shift from more traditional methods and techniques - and showcased the diversity of contemporary art practice in an intelligent yet still accessible way. I have been pleased to see winners such as Alex Pain, Tracey McMaster and David Severn get the support they deserve from such a well-established and prestigious competition. I also love the fact the Open is perhaps the most consistent and comprehensive indicator of how art is practised in the city - a permanent date in everyone’s art calendar for many decades. I'm delighted to be a part of that.
[JG] Can you tell us a bit about SYSON and your role within this project?
[JS] SYSON is a project I embarked upon at the beginning of this year with a view to presenting (and hopefully eventually representing) independent commercial contemporary art. I'm developing a place to present forward thinking projects within the city that will also work in an international context. The gallery [for me] represents the culmination of projects I have worked on over the last decade as an independent curator. I'm best known for site specific events and public art projects, through my work with Hinterland, Sideshow (The British Art Show 7 Fringe), Orchard and most recently World Event Young Artists - and I would love to find a way of marrying my experience in this field to the gallery.
[JG] What will you be offering the winner of the SYSON prize?
[JS] The SYSON prize is a great way to support something different or alternative - an event, an idea, a large object or construction that might seem inappropriate for a traditional gallery setting. This prize offers my expertise as a curator to present an exhibition, event or project in collaboration with the SYSON Gallery sometime in 2014 (although it does not have to be at the gallery itself - it could be on the street or in a field somewhere).
[JG] What is SYSON looking for in their winner?
[JS] It is not a painting prize, or a sculpture prize or a photography prize - nor do I want to be too prescriptive about what that might be. It could be any one of those things. There are many great artists in the region who make work that doesn't fit comfortably within this ancient art school classification system we still seem to use. If this doesn't sound too intimidating to you then you are in for a chance - I'm looking to find something I have never seen before and that will knock my socks off.
Interview by Jenny Gleadell Images courtesy of Jennie Syson
'One day all of this will be dust (or at least covered in it)', by SYSON artist, Lauren O'Grady.